Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The sudden shift to remote learning has exposed cracks in today's digital teaching strategies, as parents and teachers struggle with the challenges of recreating the classroom experience online.

Why it matters: School closures have affected 72% of the world's student population, per UNESCO. With uncertainty clouding the prospects of a full return in the fall, there's a renewed focus on content and techniques that actually work.

What's happening: School districts that moved classrooms online early encountered challenges in trying to replicate a school day on a screen.

  • "Just taking everything we used to do and trying to wedge it into a new virtual reality is not a promising practice, it doesn't work," says Michelle Reid, superintendent of the Northshore School District in the Seattle suburbs, which launched remote learning March 9.
  • The district shifted its focus to critical content on a project-based manner, with both real-time learning and go-at-your-own pace assignments.
  • The sudden shift also meant that teachers used whatever platform they felt most comfortable with. But Reid says the district is contemplating consolidating educational tools so parents with multiple kids don't have to juggle different platforms.

Demand for ed tech services has surged, as has interest in training for teachers to work online.

  • Outschool, a business that offers live online classes for kids, saw a spike in enrollment since mid-March, CEO Amir Nathoo tells Axios, with 3- to 8-year-old kids as the fastest growing segment.
  • Parents are looking to supplement what schools are offering as they try to occupy young children who learn better with hands-on activities. “The way it’s framed and who it’s with are key to engaging young kids,” Nathoo says.
  • Coursera CEO Jeff Maggioncalda said the online platform has seen increased interest in courses for educators that aim to help make online teaching more engaging and effective.

What's next: To prepare for the fall, school districts should vet and limit which products they use, says Josh Golin, executive director of the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood.

  • “We’re going to have to have a real conversation about what are acceptable business models for ed tech — because if we don’t have those conversations, the business model is going to be advertising-funded education,” Golin adds.

Go deeper

Aug 4, 2020 - Health

Local governments go to war over schools

A protester during a demonstration in NYC. Photo: Ron Adar/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

The next big coronavirus battleground will be over who has the final say on whether schools can stay open.

Why it matters: This involves the safety of young children and their parents, not to mention older educators and staff, and comes at the same time as many of the parents are out of work.

Aug 5, 2020 - Sports

The return of high school sports hangs in the balance

Data: MaxPreps, Axios research; Cartogram: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

As local governments go to war over whether high schools can open, the fate of the fall sports season hangs in the balance.

The state of play: The National Federation of State High School Associations has offered a 16-page guide to help states resume athletics, but with so many organizations and school districts involved, there has been little uniformity.

The new buyout barons

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Last month I wrote that SPACs are the new IPOs. But I may have understated it, because SPACs are also becoming the new private equity.

By the numbers: Short for "special purpose acquisition company," SPACs have raised $24 billion so far in 2020, with a loaded pipeline of upcoming offerings. U.S. buyout firms raised nearly $102 billion through the end of June — a much larger amount, but not so much larger that the two can't play on the same field.